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July 15, 2023

Harriet Smith

Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus - Kristoffer Hyldig OUR Recordings (6 220677/78 • 138')

Vingt Regards will be 80 next year, and it remains one of the most daunting edifices of solo piano music. You could say that any artist who encounters it and remains unchanged by the experience is perhaps in the wrong repertoire - how movingly Bertrand Chamayou talked about how his discovery of the piece as a boy proved life-changing. Now we have his near contemporary. Kristoffer Hyldig throwing his hat in the ring, and he too describes how the work has affected him, drawing him into other 'genres of art and literature,
and increasing his understanding of the part that intuition plays in 'performing and living with such transcendental music'.
Fortunately, Hyldig has at his disposal a Steinway well suited to the enterprise,
captured in a roomy recording that is perhaps occasionally too reverberant. But his sense of purpose is potent from the start, the opening 'Gaze of the Father' bringing us immediately into the pensive,
measured world of Steven Osborne and Martin Helmchen rather than the streamlined urgency of Chamayou, Pierre Laurent Aimard or Yvonne Loriod. The second arrives with a bristling angularity.
As the cycle unfolds, Hyldig is a persuasive celestial tour guide, bringing out the three main ideas that underpin Messiaen's vast structure while ensuring they're an innate part of the narrative. Particularly compelling are movements such as his 'Gaze of the Virgin', which has a lustrous simplicity to it, while he's not afraid to make a glorious noise in No 6, 'By Him was everything made', reveling in the sheer audacity of Messiaen's vision of Creation, even if he doesn't quite achieve the shock and awe of Chamayou; in the
infamous No 10, 'Gaze of the Spirit of Joy', too, he's alive to its virtuoso outpouring he's not as fast as Chamayou (few are) but the dramatic chords dance and the fervency is there in spades.
Among the first 10, the fifth is a little too drawn out, though the birdsong interpolations are characterful, while in No 7, 'Gaze of the Cross', he can't match Osborne in sheer finesse of articulation to bring character to its contrasting elements, nor, in No 9, the Scotsman's many shades of pianissimo.
No 11 opens the second half with our gaze now back on Mary, and is suitably awestruck here, with Hyldig allowing himself more time than Osborne or Chamayou; the dramatic manner in which this is swept away in 'The all-powerful word' is also powerfully wrought, though here Chamayou is still more terrifying.
I like the way Hyldig ensures that 'Noel' starts in the same mood as the 12th: although not as obsessive-sounding as Aimard, he's wonderfully alive to the quieter musing here. If the acoustic seems a little rich for No 14, 'Caze of the Angels', in the extraordinary No 15, 'The Kiss of the Infant Jesus' - in which Messiaen
almost seems to stop time - Hyldig dares to slow things right down. This was one point where I took issue with Chamayou, finding him too flowing, but even at a slower pace, this new reading doesn't reach into the soul of the music as profoundly as Osborne. If No 17 also seems a bit too drawn out here, the terror of the following Regard is brilliantly conjured, Messiaen's vision spitting fire. And as we reach the penultimate number, Hyldig floats its phrases alluringly, the music picking up speed with great inevitability, and relishes
its final consonances. If the closing epic, 'Gaze of the Church of Love', doesn't have quite the focus of Chamayou or the relentless tread of Osborne, it reveals instead fine details that constantly engage, qualities that sum up this striking new recording. Harriet Smith Gramophone August Issue 2023

Selected comparisons:
Loriod: Teldeec 2564 69986-5 (4/89, 12/94)
Aimard: Teldeec 3984 26868-2 (4/00)
Osborn: Hyperion CDA6735112 (10/02)
Helmchen:Alpha ALPHA423 (7/19)
Chamayou: Erato 9029 61966-6 (7122)

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